I want to bring your attention to the below map, some of the basic implications of which should be very troubling for liberal groups organizing for rounds two and three of the elections:
Outlined in red is a single (ignore all the criss-cross) electoral district for party list candidates where eight seats are up for grabs. This particular district is located in Dakahlia, a spacious governorate (population 5.4 million) which is divided into three districts for list candidates, and which votes in round three, on January 3rd.
Again, this is just one of the governorate’s three districts, meaning any party list competing here must compete over this entire territory (as a frame of reference, Cairo, labeled on the bottom, is roughly 120 kilometers away from the bottom of the outlined district)
Now here’s the same map but with one of Alexandria’s electoral party list districts instead highlighted:
Needless to say, a much more manageable space for competing party lists to reach their constituencies.
In this particular district, early first round results suggest a reasonably close race between the Muslim Brotherhood led Alliance, the more conservative Islamists (led by Hezb Al-Nour), and the liberal Egyptian Bloc. These early results have led to a torrent of articles lamenting the poor shape of liberals and their competitiveness in the current contest.
But it’s not the underperformance of the liberals in the first round that should alarm them most per se, but rather what this may tell us about the massive losses they are about to incur in rounds two and three when considering some of the places they have to compete next.
Recall the map up top of Dakahlia’s first electoral district for party lists. Within that district is the governorate’s capital, Mansoura, an urban center home to about 500,000 residents, or roughly one third of the first district’s population. Two things about this map should be troubling to liberals:
1) The expansive mass of land that party lists have to cover, which reaches far beyond the capital, makes campaigning in the entire district nearly impossible unless you are already established in major village centers (marakiz) throughout the district. The dominant liberals in this particular district, the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA), are not. With their brand new campaign simply trying to gain traction in the most populous part of the district, Mansoura, they continue to remain nearly invisible to the two thirds of the population living outside of the city.
2) The liberal party list is still not very well known even inside Mansoura. In early November a survey was conducted by the RCA in Mansoura which found that 80% of voters in the city were planning to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP. Of that group of respondents, 60% claimed that they would be doing so, at least in part, because they didn’t know anything about other party lists. Over the last month the RCA has thus focused nearly all of its energy in simply introducing itself to voters for the first time, a huge uphill climb in the final two months before the election, while FJP continues to regularly hold membership drives.
In an interview we recently held with the RCA, the district coordinator revealed that only in the final two weeks before the elections would the campaign engage in a massive blitz into the surrounding villages to introduce the candidates. In other words, that impossibly large territory outlined in the opening map will be traversed largely for the first time only 14 days before residents there vote.
Meanwhile, the Dakahlia coordinator for the FJP opened his schedule book a few weeks ago when we asked about covering events, and was, embarrassingly enough for us, appalled by the lack of specificity of our request; in other words, there were events going off all over the governorate on a near daily basis, so we had to tell him exactly what we wanted to see, and also be willing to travel far distances if we wanted to cover them.
Of course, this also entirely ignores whatever percentage of villagers will feel inclined to vote for the ultra conservative Salafists, whose religious appeal might negate the need for the type of airtight organizational show being put on by FJP.
And this all bring us back to that earlier map of Alexandria and its round one competition. The question is a bit clearer, if not already trite: if lesser organized liberals weren’t able to win in friendlier and more geographically negotiable territory, how will they pull seats in the vast village-dotted regions of the Nile Delta, where many of the parties and candidates remain largely unestablished?
And to add an additional layer of liberal angst, recall too that some of the other governorates, unlike Dakahlia where I reside, do not even boast as urban of a capital for liberal groups to organize themselves from. Daqahlia’s neighboring governorate, Sharqiya (voting in round 2), for example, has its capital in Zagazig, a less developed and more conservative city than even Mansoura.